Queen Tamar at Vardzia is an iconic image of Georgian History. Dating from 1184-86, it forms part of the wall paintings adorning the Church of the Dormition, the focal point of this famous rock-cut monastery in Southern Georgia. Comprising images of the Virgin, donors and nationally revered saints, with scenes from the Passion of Christ, the wall paintings survive almost complete. View images.
But their condition is alarming. Much of the painting is difficult to decipher due to smoke blackening and unsympathetic repairs. Past cleaning has not recognised their fragility. They are delicate paintings of extraordinary complexity, which may even employ oil as a binding medium.
The new understanding of their complexity, only realised in 2011 through preliminary scientific examination, will have huge implications for Vardzia but also for other Georgian wall paintings, which include some of the finest in the world. The conservation project at Vardzia, with detailed scientific studies and long-term training of Georgian students and conservators, will transform the understanding and care of Georgian wall paintings.
The National Agency for Cultural heritage preservation of Georgia, the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts and the Courtauld Institute of Art - building on 15 years of Courtauld-Georgian collaboration in conservation - are joining forces for this project. it will be the first such joint conservation project to be undertaken in Georgia itself, and set within a wider framework of conservation and advice, will be a fundamental step in ensuring the future preservation of Georgia's magnificent heritage of wall paintings.